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Friday 5: Aggressive driving making more of an impact in Cup

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While some may suggest Ross Chastain reduced his chances of winning the Cup due to his aggressive driving this season, maybe one should wonder if this aggressive driving will help Chastain (or any other driver) win the title?

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Signs point to a more choppy stretch of racing this season, which can make bumper car racing in Indianapolis seem tame. Consider:

  • There are four races left in the Cup regular season. The only way non-playoff riders can succeed is to win. This can lead to aggression.
  • The playoffs look like never before. Bold moves can help contestants avoid elimination in the early rounds.
  • The durability of the Next Gen car and the difficulty of overtaking make restarting more important and drivers more prone to aggressive behavior.
  • NASCAR’s mixed message of retaliation leaves the door open to interpretation by every driver.
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This past weekend’s race at the Indianapolis circuit turned out to be chaotic due to the fact that the track is set up so that a long straight road precedes a narrow sharp turn to the right.

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Ryan Blaney was in contention for second place in the final restart when he was in the middle of a group of three cars entering Turn 1. Blaney spun around entering Turn 2 on the road circuit to finish 26th.

“This is the case where you just crashed,” he said after the event. “That’s all people do at the end of these things, just dive in there and destroy you. I don’t know who pushed who and I don’t care, but the tires didn’t matter in the end. Both times we restarted the top three and the tires don’t really matter.

“It’s just a matter of restarting, but apparently it’s hard to ask for. People just run into each other … I did not have time to get (Tyler Reddick) try to put a bumper on it or something like that, just get over it. I dont know. It infuriates me, and I have every right to do so.

Blaine’s frustration is understandable. If he had won, he would have made the playoffs. Instead, he could still miss the playoffs even though he is second in points ahead of Sunday’s race at the Michigan International Speedway (3 pm ET on the US network).

Drivers may be more aggressive because of a new car. In the previous version, contact often led to a cut in the tire. The new generation car has become more durable. Slit tires are not that common.

Teammate Blainey Austin Sindrikbenefited from this latest restart to finish second and noted that the new car allows drivers to charge more.

“All I can say is wow,” Sindrik said after his best finish since winning the Daytona 500 this year. “There is no other form of racing where you could do this and… get away with it (without significant damage).

“Pretty wild, pretty crazy. … These are (cars) tanks. Of course, these are tanks. Yes, you bend the toe and it affects bumps and makes it harder to drive, but until I get a flat tire, I’m still digging.

This is thinking in the whole field.

“Right, wrong or indifferent, you either get it or you get it right now in the NASCAR Cup Series.” Corey Lajoie said Wednesday at MotorMouths on Peacock.

Joey Logano said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR radio that drivers essentially have no choice but to be aggressive.

“These cars are moving at almost the same speed,” he said. “Now we all have the same details. We’re only changing a limited number of things to make them faster than other cars, so they’ll be harder to overtake.

“You send it into a corner and out of control, you’re just going too fast. This is what you saw in the 1st turn (in Indy) not only on restart, but also in other cases. It was a large passage area. If I don’t pass them here, I’ll be stuck behind them for who knows how long, so I have to go. Here are the errors.

“Is this disrespectful? I don’t know if that’s as disrespectful as just guys going over their heads. pass because that’s the only way to do it.”

Another factor is how NASCAR responds to such driving and retaliation.

After Noah Gragson tired of Sage Karamcontacting him, he immediately turned Karam during the Xfinity race at Road America. Eleven more vehicles were assembled as a result of the incident. It wasn’t until four days later that NASCAR penalized Gragson for this action. NASCAR fined Gragson $35,000 and deducted 30 points from him.

Last Friday at the Camping World Truck Series Carson Hosevar gets revenge on Colby Howard for contact. Hosevar spun Howard into the straight at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, sending Howard into the wall. Other cars were not going. NASCAR did not penalize Josevar.

Although NASCAR has previously stated that it assesses each accident on its own, nothing happens in a vacuum in the sport. Drivers watch to see how NASCAR reacts.

If something is not done in the near future, aggressive driving may worsen.

“Somewhere there was this disconnection from young drivers, from very, very young drivers… I’m talking about 7-8-9-10-11 year olds,” Kyle Petty told MotorMouths on Wednesday. “They think this is how you race. They think you go and knock each other down.

“Then it just increases when you reach a level (of the Cup) because they’ve already got it into their heads that everything’s fine.”

2. Sign of the times?

Kyle BushHis contract status is not the first time the former Cup champion has run into trouble over a contract extension.

Brad Keselowski signed a one-year contract extension with Team Penske in August 2020 which extended his 2021 season. Part of the problem then was that it arose during the pandemic, which impacted companies and marketing budgets.

By the time the contract extension was announced, Keselowski had won three or more Cup victories for the fifth consecutive season. With his contact after last season, Keselowski agreed to a deal to become a driver and co-own what is now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.

Joe Gibbs Racing had a potential sponsor for the Bush team this year before that deal was cancelled. With about six months left before the start of the 2023 season, JGR has not announced a new sponsor for the No. 18 car or a contract extension with Busch.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports last month that JGR and Toyota are working on contingency plans while still trying to sign Bush. Last weekend in Indianapolis, the two-time Cup champion said he was willing to make concessions “to race below his market value” in order to stay with JGR.

On the other hand, Hendrick Motorsports announced in February that it had signed Chase Elliott to a five-year contract that would extend him through the 2027 season.

However, Keselowski noted problems for drivers at this point.

“The sport is undergoing a dramatic reboot,” he said. “The tides have changed quite a lot in the last decade, maybe even two decades. We came out of a time when drivers made incredible amounts of money. …and the host team didn’t matter at all.

“I look at Robert Yates, who was a major player in the sport for 30+ years and was forced to sell his racing team at actual liquid value when he was ready to retire. Think what an absolute travesty it was, the investment he put into it. At the same time, there were drivers earning as much, perhaps more, than he could sell all his assets, and this seems really wrong.

“Now we are seeing the opposite situation, where the assets of the team owner are worth significantly more money, and the salaries of pilots are declining very quickly. It’s a flip for sure. One can argue which one is better for the sport, but definitely a dynamic transition.”

Keselowski cites the charter system and media rights deal that is in place for the 2024 season as making teams more valuable.

“I feel like I hit the topic of team ownership at just the right time and sort of foresaw it coming,” he said.

3. Ford and Kyle Busch?

When Kyle Busch made his NASCAR debut it was in 2001 driving Ford Roush Fenway Racing in the Truck Series.

One of the interesting things about Busch’s future is what could happen to Kyle Busch Motorsports if Busch doesn’t sign a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing and move to a non-Toyota manufacturer.

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, was asked this week about how KBM could be listed if the Ford team is interested in signing Bush.

“Whenever we have an opportunity to improve our program, whether it’s drivers at a certain level in NASCAR or teams at all levels in NASCAR, we certainly have a responsibility to consider and decide how it affects our program better or not,” – he said. “So, of course, we will consider all options.”

Asked if he personally would like Bush to be at Ford, Rushbrook said, “That’s not for me to answer, not from a personal point of view.”

Stewart-Haas Racing has not announced who will drive the No. 10 Ford next season. Arik Almirola announced before the start of the season that this would be his last proper cup. This may change.

Almirola said last month that “decision makers” asked him about next season, leading to the possibility of a part-time or full-time return with Smithfield as sponsor. Co-owner Tony Stewart declined to comment on NBC Sports last weekend in Indianapolis for the team’s plans for next year.

If Almirola returns to a full-time job and SHR keeps its roster intact, then Team Penske and RFK Racing will be the main Ford teams that Busch should consider.

Asked about Busch last week, team owner Roger Penske said: “Today we have four cars that we are working on. We support the Wood brothers and obviously Harrison (Burton). We have a lot of drivers, and we…


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